|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 22 August 2000|
To read the history of "Supernova," someone might expect the worst. The film switched directors – from Geoffrey Wright to Walter Hill – in pre-production. During post-production, Hill himself was yanked out of the editing room by the Powers That Be, replaced by Jack ("The Hidden") Sholder, who was in turn replaced by Francis Ford Coppola. Thomas Lee, nobody’s real name, is listed as director in the credits.
Well, surprise. While it’s not going to make anybody forget "Alien" (in fact, the sets are likely to remind people of the earlier film), "Supernova" is in fact a perfectly decent science-fiction/horror thriller, taking place on a spacecraft and in the bowels of a deserted planet. An especially strong cast and good character dynamics, along with lots of energetic explosions and crashes, keep things consistently lively. The movie’s biggest crime would seem to be that it’s not all that innovative storywise, but it’s easy to cite any number of other films (think "Pitch Black") that are even simpler and aren’t looked at cross-eyed because of it.
When the medical rescue ship Nightingale receives an emergency distress call, it responds – disabling itself and losing crew in the process. The damaged vessel retrieves a mysterious stranger, Larson (Peter Facinelli), who identifies himself as the estranged son of the abusive ex-boyfriend of medical officer Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett). There’s something a little odd about Larson, and even odder about an alien object that he’s got with him. Pretty soon, the Nightingale is up to its bulkheads in violence and weirdness. Adding to everyone’s troubles is the fact that the nearest sun is about to explode.
Since the movie wouldn’t be titled "Supernova" if the event didn’t come off, we naturally wonder whether the Nightingale will be able to get away in time. Screenwriter David Campbell Wilson (who likely had as many or more unsung colleagues as Thomas Lee) and the director do a great job of making us wonder how the hell this will be accomplished, as the characters do seem to be painted into an inescapable corner.
The cast is very strong, particularly Bassett, who excels at playing forceful characters. The chemistry between Bassett and James Spader, as a pilot who’s kicking a drug problem, is a good mixture of restraint and intensity. Wilson Cruz is charming as the ship’s mostly light-hearted computer specialist and Facinelli does well with his role.
The "Supernova" DVD makes great use of surround effects, including a recurring one that uses the subwoofer to vibrate the floor without attacking the ears during certain dramatic ship movements. Chapter 5 sends the aural aspects of "plasma acceleration" shooting through mains and rears, making us feel that we’re speeding up along with the ship. The computer voice and voices coming over the ship’s intercom system are consistently clean and specific, though sometimes onscreen dialogue gets a bit damp in the center, especially one of Facinelli’s speeches in Chapter 20, while a bass music sting in Chapter 18 throws out a greater buzz than seems intended. Chapter 22 has wonderful sound effects, not only obviously ones like an explosion so loud and well-defined that it appears to be moving up and down as well as throughout the entire soundfield, but shattering glass and metal that falls in individual pieces left, center, right and back with such clarity that the automatic reaction is to duck.
The DVD comes with 13 deleted scenes, including an alternate ending that has more opticals and a darker tone.
"Supernova" is not exactly an original, but it’s well-made and has conviction about its characters and the story it tells. It succeeds pretty well on its own terms.